His career as a business thinker took off in 1942, when his initial writings on politics andsociety won him access to the internal workings of General Motors (GM),one of the
largest companies in the world at that time. His experiences inEuropehad left himfascinated with the problem of authority. He shared his fascination withDonaldsonBrown, the mastermind behind the administrative controls at GM. In 1943 Brown invitedhim in to conduct what might be called a "political audit": a two-year social-scientificanalysis of the corporation. Drucker attended every board meeting, interviewedemployees, and analyzed production and decision-making processes.The resulting book,
, popularized GM's multidivisionalstructure and led to numerous articles, consulting engagements, and additional books.GM, however, was hardly thrilled with the final product. Drucker had suggested that theauto giant might want to reexamine a host of long-standing policies on customer relations, dealer relations, employee relations and more. Inside the corporation, Drucker’scounsel was viewed as hypercritical. GM's revered chairman, Alfred Sloan, was so upsetabout the book that he “simply treated it as if it did not exist,” Drucker later recalled,“never mentioning it and never allowing it to be mentioned in his presence.”
Drucker taught that management is “a liberal art,” and he infused his management advicewith interdisciplinary lessons from history, sociology, psychology, philosophy, cultureand religion.
He also believed strongly that all institutions, including those in the private sector, have a responsibility to the whole of society. “The fact is,” Drucker wrotein his 1973
Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices
, “that in modern society thereis no other leadership group but managers. If the managers of our major institutions, andespecially of business, do not take responsibility for the common good, no one else can or will.”
Drucker was interested in the growing effect of people who worked with their mindsrather than their hands. He was intrigued by employees who knew more about certainsubjects than their bosses or colleagues and yet had to cooperate with others in a largeorganization. Rather than simply glorify the phenomenon as the epitome of human progress, Drucker analyzed it and explained how it challenged the common thinkingabout how organizations should be run.His approach worked well in the increasingly mature business world of the second half of the twentieth century. By that time, large corporations had developed the basicmanufacturing efficiencies and managerial hierarchies of mass production. Executives
thought they knew how to run companies, and Drucker took it upon himself to poke holesin their beliefs, lest organizations become stale. But he did so in a sympathetic way. Heassumed that his readers were intelligent, rational, hardworking people of good will. If their organizations struggled, he believed it was usually because of outdated ideas, anarrow conception of problems, or internal misunderstandings.